It’s been a long off-season for the Melbourne Stars, who have rejigged their squad in the hopes of once again returning to the finals of BBL|11 this summer.
Two of the key figures signaling this changing of the guard under coach David Hussey’s tutelage are English recruit Joe Clarke and developing Victorian youngster Sam Elliott.
Clarke was recruited from Nottinghamshire after impressive numbers in the English T20 Blast competition warranted his return to the BBL after featuring in three matches for the Perth Scorchers last summer. He’ll be expected to slot into an opening role with the bat alongside Marcus Stoinis, as well as taking the gloves.
Just days out from the team’s opening match, Clarke is still excited by the opportunity.
“I had a phone call from my manager back home towards the latter end of our English season – David (Hussey) played for my county back home so the connection was there,” Clarke said.
“I jumped at the opportunity to come and play for a big club like the Stars, I would’ve loved to have played more games last season, as getting a taste for the Big Bash and how the competition goes was fun.”
With West Indian international recruits Andre Fletcher and Nicholas Pooran both leaving Team Green after the side failed to make the finals last season, Clarke and former Hobart Hurricane leggie Qais Ahmad are the international recruits who the Stars expect to lead the way in BBL|11.
Clarke is set to open the batting and take the gloves, as he has been working closely with Hussey and batting coach Ben Rohrer to prepare for the responsibilities.
“The keeping has been on the back burner the last couple of years, I went to Pakistan in their Super League and kept in that, so it’s something I’m looking forward to doing over here,” he said.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the coaching staff in Dave (Hussey) and Ben (Rohrer) so far, they didn’t do much keeping in their day but they do the drills with me that I do back at home to make me feel as best prepared as I can be.”
Although Clarke hasn’t “been given the full role yet” of opener and keeper, it’s clear the Stars want him to be a key piece in their puzzle this summer.
The same can be said of young Sam Elliott, who is continuing to rise up the state ranks after some consistent performances for Fitzroy-Doncaster in premier cricket.
His presence with ball in hand has led to him being a part of Victorian and Melbourne Stars academies over the past few seasons, meaning he has gotten to benefit from the constant training.
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“Having the Junction Oval set up over the pre-season with Victoria, we were very lucky to have had five or six practice games, we’ve been ready to go for a couple of months now which is awesome,” Elliott said.
“This year is pretty important for me, if I take my opportunities and bring my skills to the table then that’s all I can really ask for.”
With the Stars just recently announcing the signings of experienced keeper Peter Nevill and exciting prospect Brody Couch to combine with Joe Burns and Beau Webster, The Stars are clearly focused on developing young heads with experienced teachers present.
Elliott, the son of former Australian test opener Matt, knows all about this focus on improvement, as he has been able to work closely with former Stars and Aussie bowler Clint McKay to hone his T20 bowling skills.
“Having Clint here, I’ve worked with him since I was 17, so having someone I trust at the club really helps,” he said.
“Trying to swing the ball and take early wickets are what I do in T20 cricket, if I can take wickets at the top then that’s one of the most important things.”
While both Clarke and Elliott are relatively new to the Stars fold, they’ll both be trying to get maximum opportunities in BBL|11. For the latter, he’ll be hoping to receive the new ball, but will “bowl whenever Glenn Maxwell and Hussey want” him to.
On the other hand, Clarke will be looking to emulate fellow English players in succeeding in the BBL, as his dynamic batting and keeping could see him become a star in the competition this summer.
“Obviously, Alex Hales has come out and dominated the last couple of seasons, same as Chris Jordan, Sam Billings, and Tom Curran,” Clarke said.
“There’s a lot of English talent, I’ll be hoping they do well personally but not against us.”
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